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Remembering Jack L. Cooper: The First Black Radio Announcer

We all know that the first person to do basically everything, was a black person. Whether it be music, technology, or education, we have always been the front runners. When the radio first came about in the 1890s, all that was heard on the waves were white voices, unless it was music. There was a major lead forward in 1929 when the “All Negro Hour” was debuted on WSBC in Chicago, becoming the first weekly variety show featuring Black entertainers. America's first Black radio announcer, Jack L. Cooper, produced and hosted this historical show.

Cooper has been described as the undisputed patriarch of Black radio for the U.S. Born in Memphis and leaving home by the age of ten to work in Ohio, he spent his teens as a successful boxer and semi professional Baseball Player. In 1905 he was working within the Theater Owners Booking Association circuit as a singer and dancer and began writing and producing sketches; which led to him running his own touring troupe with his first wife. After managing about 2 theaters for TOBA, he began writing for papers in Memphis and Indianapolis.

Around 1920, Cooper began his attempts to break into the new radio industry as a performer. When working for the Defender in D.C, he made his first appearance on radio writing and performing comic sketches on WCAP. After his return to Chicago in 1926, he proposed a new show, The All-Negro Hour that ended up premiering on WSBC on November 3rd 1929. The show began airing on a weekly basis and consisted of live music and comedy sketches. By the mid 1930s, Cooper worked about 9 hours a week on SCAP. Cooper was the first to broadcast gramophone records, including Gospel music and Jazz using his own personal phonograph.

By 1947, he had his own production company, Jack L. Cooper Presentations, and controlled over 40 hours per week on different stations in Chicago. With his promotions of Black people at presenters, he was among the first to broadcast commentaries on the Negro Baseball League and supported Black youth organizations.

After his retirement from broadcasting in 1959 he passed about 20 years later at the age of 81. Leading a strong and meaningful life, Jack L. Cooper left a strong memory at the time of his death. In 1975, a park in the West Pullman area was named after him in his honor.


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